Sunday, April 21, 2024

‘All day I dream about flowers’: Victoria florist business blooms through regenerative farming

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Two young women have used their passion for regenerative farming, flowers and supporting local to create a business that is blooming and bringing some beauty to Greater Victoria.

Ella Bethune and Ash Simon are the two halves that make up tiny flwrs — a local florist with roots in Fernwood, and more recently, North Saanich. 

tiny flwrs origins

Bethune and Simon met in 2018 when they were both working as farmers and discovered they both had a passion for supporting local ecosystems and using regenerative practices in their work. 

Regenerative farming is a method that prioritizes the nutrient-density of crops and the soil they grow in, rather than focussing on high yields which can kill off the biodiversity in the soil. These methods can also actively combat climate change rather than contributing to it.

A few short years after they met and became friends, they decided to band together and turn Bethune’s grassy, dandelion-filled backyard into the launchpad for tiny flwrs using the techniques they had learned while working on larger regenerative farms. 

“The flower thing kind of came after because we were both working on organic vegetable farms and doing food production,” said Simon.

“Honestly, we just love art and beautiful things, so combining art and farming I think floristry made a lot of sense for us,” added Bethune.

“One day Ella asked, ‘do you want to start a flower farm with me,’ and I said, ‘obviously I do,’ and we did it,” Simon laughed.

The backyard space they used as their initial flower garden in Fernwood took some serious work to revitalize, according to Bethune and Simon.

They used a permaculture technique they’d learned while farming called ‘sheet mulching’ where they laid down flattened cardboard on top of grass and covered that with compost and all sorts of organic material. 

This way, the ground isn’t disturbed and with some time the cardboard disintegrates and the grass and dandelion covered ground composts as well.

“You could dig up all the soil and till it, but a big part of what we do is practicing ‘no till’ farming to preserve the soil microbiology,” Simon told Victoria Buzz.

“You’re just building on top of what was already there instead of ripping it up and starting over.”

“Another reason you don’t want to till is because there’s a lot of carbon in the soil,” added Bethune. “The actual ground is a huge carbon store, so by tilling you’d be releasing carbon into the atmosphere which contributes to the greenhouse gas effect.”

Tilling at the beginning of a growing season causes significant carbon contributions to the atmosphere which therefore impacts climate change in a negative way. 

Recently, the duo was accepted into a program that allows them to use a half acre of land in North Saanich with the expectation their work will revitalize the land. 

New plot to grow in

The new plot of land tiny flwrs is utilizing is part of the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture (SCRA). The 60 acre plot of land was once used as the Sandown Racetrack which held horse races in North Saanich. 

“It used to be a racetrack, so it was like a gravel pit essentially with some roads running through,” explained Bethune.

The horse racetrack operated from 1955 to 2008 and in 2011, it was rezoned by North Saanich and eventually converted into a place for local food production, teaching and learning, supporting emerging farmers as well as restoration and stewardship of the land and water in 2017.

“Basically, it was some of the most prime farmland on the [Saanich] Peninsula and what they did to build the racetrack was they ripped up all the topsoil and sent it off,” said Simon.

“[The SCRA] is all about land remediation but it’s a really difficult process.”

By being at the SCRA, the farming duo will be able to expand on their regenerative farming knowledge and abilities while doing some good for their local ecosystems.

In addition to growing as farmers, being at the SCRA is a huge opportunity for Bethune and Simon who are working toward being able to do this full time, but while they develop their business, they continue to pursue academia while also working other jobs through the off season to make ends meet.

“We both want to live urban lives which means paying Victoria rent prices while farming on the peninsula,” said Bethune. 

“Just constantly ‘girl bossing,’” laughed the duo. 

The future looks bright for tiny flwrs as the weather gets warmer and blossoms begin to bloom throughout Greater Victoria. 

“With our Sandown spot comes a lot of opportunities for business mentorship,” Simon explained.  “I’m really positive and looking forward to what the season brings.”

“It’s really exciting to have a bigger piece of land that we can farm on through the winter as well because we can do some over the winter flowers and pedals to be growing for way longer and do dried bouquets and stuff like that.”

Local seeds, pollinators and businesses

Supporting local is what matters most to these two. 

Some local florists import their flowers which can negatively impact the environment, whereas tiny flwrs prides themselves on growing everything they sell and supporting their local pollinators and the ground systems they’re grown in. 

They also work with local groups to source the seeds they use to grow their wares. 

tiny flwrs bouquets will be able to be found at Working Culture bakery and Habit Coffee come May, and the duo are working toward doing more weddings and events with their arrangements this year. 

They also work with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group, which helps them with startup costs at the beginning of every growing season and in turn they provide CSA customers with weekly bouquet drop offs and other goods. 

In addition to these business ventures, tiny flwrs is also working on contracts with local restaurants to provide edible flowers to be used in Victoria’s culinary and cocktail scenes. 

“Being able to expand our business is really exciting,” said Bethune. “‘All day I dream about flowers’ is the only way to describe my life.”

mm
Curtis Blandy
curtis@victoriabuzz.com

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